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Daily Time Editorials

Daily Times Editorials – 20th May 2016

Pakistan, UN and Indian maps

The Indian government is planning on introducing a controversial legislative bill in the Indian parliament known as the ‘Geospatial Information Regulation Bill 2016’. This bill shall make it illegal for local and international geospatial mapping organisations along with individuals to depict India’s map ‘incorrectly’. According to the officials involved in drafting this bill, the states of ‘Arunachal Pradesh’ and ‘Jammu and Kashmir’, including Pakistan’s Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan regions, are to be depicted as union territories of India across all mapping groups in the world. This includes navigation devices, paper maps and online depictions of South Asia. Furthermore, any organisation or person failing to abide by the proposed bill shall be liable to hefty penalty that even includes Google and subsidiary Google Earth.

This bill is not only controversial but by established norms of international law it is also legally dubious. Pakistan took the right step in approaching the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) regarding the legislation of the bill. The letter sent to UNSG by Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs aptly states, “Through the passage of this Bill, the Indian government would penalise the individuals and organisations who depict Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed territory as per the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions.” Past UN resolutions including Resolution 47 of the UN Security Council have already declared the state of Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed region with UN Military Observer Group acting a peacemaker in the region. It is widely known that Resolution 47 was non-binding under Chapter 6 of the UN Charter but the issue is of international level and cannot be subdued on the wishes of India.

By introducing the geospatial mapping bill, India is not only breaking international law but also forcefully trying to depict a neighbouring country’s region as its own. Should the bill get approved, Pakistan should pursue aggressive lobbying in the international community to force India to withdraw the controversial legislative draft bill.

The reality is that the regions of Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan are an integral part of Pakistan with their people standing firm with the state. The real cause of concern for India and the international community should be what the Indian Army is doing in Indian-Occupied Kashmir with the local people. It is widely believed that gross violations of human rights along with the suppression of the struggle for freedom are being perpetrated in Indian occupied Kashmir.

Nevertheless, Pakistani mapmakers have also depicted Indian-Occupied Kashmir as an integral part of Pakistan. Instead of going by wishful thoughts, the actual map to be drawn by both India and Pakistan should depict the Line of Control (LoC) as the temporary border. The future of this border largely depends on how the issues of Kashmir including Siachen are resolved and one can only hope for peace to prevail. The arms race in South Asia created by India is already deteriorating the regional balance of power and this new issue of mapping may further complicate the matter.

Lahore Police force

With a population of more than 13 million, the ratio of police officer to the number of citizens in Lahore is alarmingly high as compared to other metropolitan cities around the world. More specifically, the ratio is 1:413 as compared to 1:198 in Delhi, and 1:157 in London. However, Lahore’s ratio is still higher than some of the other provincial capitals, namely Quetta and Peshawar. These figures highlight the negligence of the provincial authorities towards the dearth of police officers in the provincial metropolis. According to the police high-ups, Punjab government has repeatedly turned down the requests to recruit more officers to cater to the law and order situation in the wake of terrorism and rising crime rates.

With the ever-growing population of the city, acute shortage of force has resulted in the increase in crime rate. Currently, the city is housing six divisions, 35 circles, and only 84 police stations with a total strength of 26,500 police officers to fight crimes and provide security to the citizens. The department high-ups have requested the provincial government to double the force to maintain law and order situation in the city. Approximately 48,144 incidents of crimes were reported in 2014 which rose to 59,138 in 2015. No new recruitments have been done in the past three years. This is an alarming situation, and the government needs to take urgent steps to fill the gap. Moreover, only 1,000 police officers were deputed to guard 930 worship places in the city despite serious security threats due to the shortage of manpower. Furthermore, there are 139 government and private projects in the city, giving a significant challenge to the police department to cater to the demands with current manpower. The responsibilities of the Police have increased especially after the Gulshan Iqbal Park blast a few months ago. The government had directed the department to secure the public places including parks and other places of recreation. With the shortage of manpower and continuous security threats, the department needs urgent reinforcement.

Although the Punjab government’s claims to change the ‘thana’ culture to eliminate corruption and improve efficiency by modernising the infrastructure are welcome developments, there is an urgent need to reinforce the department. With continued negligence of government for improving the manpower situation, these projects serve only as an eyewash for the public. The department suffers from budget constraints, which hinders the repair, maintenance and infrastructure development of police force. Preference should be given to the institutional development and capacity building of the department in the wake of continuous terrorist threats and sectarian violence. The projects like the Dolphin Police are a welcome development, but they should not be implemented at the cost of the police department. With China-Pakistan Economic Corridor Project, different projects have been launched in the provincial metropolis as well. There is an absolute need to secure these projects to portray a better image of the security situation in the country to woo foreign investors. With a large number of officers deployed for the safety of VIPs, the department is not left with enough resources to protect the entire city. In these circumstances, the government cannot afford further negligence and should take immediate steps for the recruitment of new officers.

Parliamentarians’ remuneration

The demand by parliamentarians for more lucrative pay packages turned quite a few eyebrows as many jumped at the opportunity to portray the country’s legislators as a clique of greedy individuals bent on profiting themselves at the expense of taxpayer money. It does not help matters that the image of feudal lords and wealthy capitalists occupying the seats of parliament continues to dominate the collective memory of the public. While there is an element of truth to this popular perception, it should not be used as pretence to introduce reforms that would provide the opportunity to increase the access of parliament for individuals who do not belong to a privileged socioeconomic background. At present, the basic salary of a lawmaker is Rs 36,420, which is a pittance considering that they occupy such an important position in the government. It is about time that legislators have sufficient remuneration to hold their prestigious office without having to rely on subsidiary sources of income.

The demand for paid member parliaments finds its roots in the chartist movement, which was a movement of the British working class following widespread disappointment over the Great Reform Act of 1832. Hoping for substantial broadening of the franchise in the reform act and angry over being deprived of their rights, the working class drew up the six-point charter and got thousands of signatures in support for it. One of the points in the charter was that member parliaments (MPs) should be paid, and the supposed wisdom behind this demand was that paid member parliaments would allow the working class to have representation in parliament as their representatives could then quit their work and represent their interests. While the chartist movement failed to implement even a single point, the movement holds an important place in British history as most of its points now constitute an elementary position in British parliamentary democracy.

It is true that Pakistan’s parliamentary history is starkly different from Britain’s. It does not have hundreds of years of gradual reform and the rich culture of parliamentary practice. Moreover, there are effective barriers to entry in Pakistan’s political landscape. Pakistan’s patronage networks necessitate the possession of substantial wealth to join politics and, not surprisingly, only the landed elite and the bourgeoisie fit this criterion. It is true that nothing short of reforms aimed at the grassroots level, in which political parties provide an alternative to the existing mode of patronage politics, can the political system be made more accessible to the public. This would be able to provide the opportunity for anyone to join politics as long as he or she has the vision, passion and ideals to work for people and the country. However, this does not mean that in absence of these reforms, attempts at increasing the remuneration of parliamentarians must be shunned. Often evolution of institutions occurs in subtle ways, and such piecemeal measures combine to gradually effect meaningful change. The British Parliament did not come to be the beacon of democracy overnight. The 1832 reform act was succeeded by the 1864 reform act, and many after that, and that is how they combined to shape the parliamentary practice of Britain as it is known today. Hence, Pakistan should take lesson from this, and the public should support all measures that aim to steer the country in the right direction.

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